Treasure: a Park City political punch that has not been thrown
October 13, 2015
In a City Hall election season that has lacked many notable political punches, one that has not even been thrown is Treasure.
As the Park City Council campaign enters its final weeks, it seems unlikely the controversial development proposal, at one time certain to draw voter attention, will become one of the key issues. It has hardly been mentioned as an issue since the summertime start of the campaign. The candidates have pressed other topics as Treasure has largely faded into the background of the public discourse even though a resolution has not been reached years into the discussions.
The Treasure land is situated on a highly visible hillside overlooking Old Town. The Sweeney family in the 1980s secured development rights on the Treasure land as well as nearby parcels of ground. Over the years, other locations involved in the overall approval have been developed, but the Treasure acreage itself holds the bulk of the development rights.
Treasure is one of the most polarizing development proposals brought to City Hall in the past decade or so. The project, envisioned as upward of 1 million square feet of development, would be situated in a highly visible location off streets like Empire Avenue and Lowell Avenue. The land is along the route of the Town Lift. The Sweeney family long held the land and it is now owned by a partnership with the Sweeney family holding partial ownership.
The talks started, stopped and restarted over the years with only limited progress before reaching a stalemate that continues today. Members of the various Park City Planning Commissions that have dealt with the project have appeared to be suspect of Treasure. People who live close to the site have been deeply critical. A citizen group in opposition to the project was formed.
Planning Commissioners and critics have especially expressed concerns about the traffic Treasure is expected to attract. They are also worried about the size of the proposed Treasure buildings, which they argue will loom over Old Town. The Sweeney family has countered that the roads, once improved as part of the Treasure work, could handle the traffic. The family also has said Treasure will add lodging in Old Town. That, the Sweeney family contends, will boost business along Main Street.
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Treasure was made an issue for several City Hall election cycles, most notably in a combative campaign for the mayor’s office in 2009. The incumbent mayor at the time, Dana Williams, fended off a challenge from Brad Olch, who served three terms as mayor immediately preceding Williams. Olch was aggressive in his criticism of how City Hall had handled Treasure up to that point. He argued officials, particularly the mayor, could have been more heavily involved in reaching a solution than they had been.
It was after the election that Park City’s elected officials made a unorthodox decision to involve themselves in Treasure in an effort to break the logjam. The elected officials at that time launched negotiations with the Treasure side meant to reach some sort of conservation agreement. The negotiations, though, were unsuccessful. The price tag the Treasure partnership attached to a conservation deal was substantially higher than City Hall would have paid.
As a result of the elected officials entering into the conservation negotiations, they were required to remove themselves from any role in the City Hall processing of the Treasure development itself. It would have been seen as a conflict had the elected officials negotiated with the goal of a conservation deal and also maintain a role in the processing should a conservation agreement not be reached. The City Council would normally have been the appeal body once the Planning Commission cast its vote. The Planning Commission’s Treasure decision is expected to be appealed, regardless of whether it is a ‘Yea’ or ‘Nay’ vote. Any appeal would be heard by a three-person panel instead of the City Council.
The arrangement is binding, meaning that City Councils of the future could not serve as the appeal body even if the elected officials at the time of an appeal were not in office when the unsuccessful negotiations occurred.
It seems that the lack of chatter about Treasure during this year’s election season is a reflection of the dormancy of the development talks as well as an understanding by the candidates that they will likely have little, if any, role in the Treasure outcome should they be elected.
The campaign’s political punch, then, probably won’t be thrown in the direction of the Treasure hillside.
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